Panic Disorder and Anxiety or Panic Attacks
Panic Disorder is the diagnostic name given to the frequent occurrence of panic or anxiety attacks, which are two names for the same thing. These attacks appear to occur for no valid reason in that there is nothing obvious around that would normally provoke such fear.
Most people I have treated for panic attacks have told me that their friends, relatives and even sometimes their own doctors, as well as they themselves, have been unable to understand why these attacks happen.
This fact alone makes sufferers even more nervous because they then live in constant fear of one happening suddenly, unexpectedly, and to great embarrassment.
I used to experience panic attacks from the age of 10. I always considered myself fortunate because right from the start I knew that my panic attacks were caused by what I was thinking about. Although I didn't know in the early years how to stop thinking those things or how to stop the panicky feelings, I did at least know I'd be able to if I found out how.
A practical guide to recognising and overcoming feelings of panic.
Panic attacks are fuelled totally by the fear of having one. If you are brave enough to focus your mind somewhere else when you get the trigger thought, "What if I panic?" then it will just wither away.
The key is being brave enough NOT to think about it and monitor the symptoms.
Many sufferers are unaware of this link to their thoughts and so believe that these attacks come on totally unpredictably. Naturally, if you believe that one of these debilitating and unpleasant sensations can start without warning anywhere and at any time, you are bound to experience anxiety (raised negative arousal) at any time the possibility of a panic enters your head.
As a result of this, sufferers live in constant fear of an anxiety attack and so tend to stop going out or doing things where they might be embarrassed should an attack occur.
If they try and ignore their tendency to panic or they are forced to go out for some reason, it is highly likely that their anxiety will cause further panic attacks to occur. These may be in different situations or under different circumstances from the original one. In this way more possible places to panic are learnt by the survival instinct and so the Panic Disorder generalises to more situations.
A second feature of Panic Disorder is that the sufferer is unable to lead a normal life for fear of panicking and is spending much of their time trying to avoid having a panic attack.
Most people diagnosed with agoraphobia are not afraid of open spaces (as the word 'agoraphobia' suggests.) They are merely afraid of going out in case they embarrass themselves by having a panic attack in public.
What are the symptoms of a panic attack?
The symptoms experienced by someone having a panic attack vary.
When we feel anxious we each tend to experience a bodily symptom of some kind. Some people get tightness in their chest, others feel nauseous, some feel light-headed and dizzy as if they are going to faint, others feel unable to get their breath. These are just some of the unpleasant symptoms experienced.
What makes panic attacks increase is the fact that, once the person notices the symptom, they start to monitor it closely, trying to stop it getting worse.
It is this same struggle, to try and stop it, that actually makes it worse.
Consider the case of someone who feels faint when they panic.
The first time the symptoms might happen for various reasons. Once they happen, however, the person may feel embarrassed about it. The symptom of feeling as if they were going to faint was bad enough but the fact that they made an exhibition of themselves in front of others makes it even worse.
Because brains link things, especially negative things, once you've had a panic attack, your brain has made a link between those symptoms and your fear or embarrassment. So then, whenever it notices even a hint of that symptom, it will start warning you about the possibility of danger.
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